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Sugar Grove legalizes video gaming

SUGAR GROVE – After hearing public comments Tuesday, the Sugar Grove Village Board legalized video gaming and gave the nod to put an advisory gambling referendum on the April ballot.

The Village Board voted 4-2 in favor of legalizing video gaming, a vote that came four months after the board voted to ban the measure. Trustees Kevin Geary and Tom Renk voted against the measure. Trustees Mari Johnson, David Paluch, Robert Bohler and Rick Montalto voted in favor of it.

The ordinance goes into effect 10 days from today, but establishments still will have to apply for licenses through the state.

An advisory referendum will ask Sugar Grove residents in April whether they want to allow video gaming, and the board plans to revisit the ordinance after that vote. No one petitioned to put a binding referendum on the ballot before the deadline.

Bars, truck stops, social clubs and veterans organizations in communities with video gaming can have up to five machines each. The Illinois Supreme Court in 2011 upheld the constitutionality of the Illinois Video Gaming Act.

At the standing-room-only meeting, several people spoke in favor and against legalized video gambling before trustees voted.

David Smith, a representative from the Illinois Family Institute who lives in Crete, spoke against the expansion of video gaming. He cited a study when he told the board that for every $1 spent on video gambling, there’s a $3 social cost, such as people going into bankruptcy, divorce and declining property values. He said it’s not good public policy to bring gambling into the community because it means people will be exploited.

Members of the Sugar Grove American Legion spoke in favor of legalizing gambling, a measure they hope will help generate enough revenue for the legion to continue operations. Cliff Barker, chaplain for the legion, said legalizing gambling is about giving Sugar Grove businesses “equal footing” when it comes to competing with towns that already have legalized gambling.

“You can’t throw a protective bubble over Sugar Grove to protect citizens,” he said. “They will gamble; they just won’t gamble here.”

Melisa Taylor, a County Board representative for Sugar Grove, said the issue has created a divide among Sugar Grove residents. Because it’s such a divisive issue, she suggested the board let voters decide in April whether they want gambling in their community before taking a vote.

“Once that vote comes in, that will help all of these factions unite and start to come back together,” she said.

Before the vote, Geary made a motion to table the ordinance that would legalize gambling until after the April referendum. The board voted 3-3 to table the issue, and Village President Sean Michels broke the tie, voting against tabling the ordinance.

“I wish we could have left the ban in place and wait until the advisory referendum,” Geary said after the vote. “I think it’s an important enough issue that the public should speak clearly to this board.”

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